JUDY WOODRUFF: With two dozen Democratic candidates vying for the party’s presidential nomination, the debate over what the party should stand for is front and center. As Lisa Desjardins reports, that battle is also playing out inside the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. LISA DESJARDINS: For the House speaker, a difficult issue. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I said what I’m going to say on the subject. LISA DESJARDINS: That was yesterday, when Nancy Pelosi was asked about the public airing of what had been mostly private frustrations in her caucus. Those began months ago, as a group of new members, including New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, pushed openly for the party to move more to the left.
At one point, she protested in Pelosi’s office for her sweeping progressive Green New Deal. Pelosi reached out, offering Ocasio-Cortez a spot on a new Climate Change Committee. But she turned it down, pointing out that temporary committee had fewer powers than others. Soon, Ocasio-Cortez and three other freshman women of color emerged as a tight, vocal group of activist members. But they didn’t openly break with Pelosi, until this month. WOMAN: This is bigger than a funding debate. WOMAN: That’s right! LISA DESJARDINS: As Congress heard more news of child deaths and poor treatment of migrants at the border, Democrats initially passed legislation to force better conditions. But that bill hit a wall in the Senate, SEN.
MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We already have our compromise. LISA DESJARDINS: So, Pelosi compromised, agreeing to a more generic border funding bill that didn’t require better treatment. The only Democrats voting no? Those same four freshmen, sometimes called the squad. And Ocasio-Cortez’s office went further. Her chief of staff raised race in a tweet that attacked moderate Democrats, writing: “They certainly seem hell-bent to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did the ’40s.” He deleted those words, but a few days later, Pelosi told The New York Times the group made themselves irrelevant, saying: “They’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got.” Then, on Wednesday, Pelosi went behind closed doors with her caucus, making an extraordinary plea for unity, at one point saying that members should come to her with complaints, not tweet about one another.
But the squad of four felt they were being wrongly scolded. And Ocasio-Cortez told The Washington Post: “It was just outright disrespectful, the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.” That comment resonated with another prominent Democrat, progressive caucus leader Pramila Jayapal, who also said: “I don’t think the speaker is used to having a group of members who have bigger Twitter followings than her,” which brings us back to Pelosi’s response. REP. NANCY PELOSI: At the request of my members, an offensive tweet that came out of one of the member’s offices that referenced our Blue Dogs and our New Dems essentially as segregationists. Our members took offense at that. I addressed that. We respect the value of every member of our caucus.
The diversity of it all is a wonderful thing. Diversity is our strength. Unity is our power. And we have a big fight, and we’re in the arena, and that’s all I’m going to say on the subject. LISA DESJARDINS: This all goes deeper than large personalities at odds. Pelosi’s Democrats have real policy divides between moderates, many of whom are in vulnerable districts, and progressives, who are not. It is a fight about not just who Democrats are, but what they want to do. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Lisa Desjardins..